Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei waited six Major League Soccer seasons before making it to the playoffs.
And when he finally made his postseason debut Sunday, his coach and teammates thought he produced perhaps his best performance yet in the Sounders’ 1-1 draw at FC Dallas.
The result sends the two-game, aggregate-score series to CenturyLink Field for resolution on Nov. 10.
Frei saved four of the five shots that Dallas put on goal. His biggest save may have come in the final minute of regulation, when he preserved the result with a leaping one-handed save of a shot by Fabian Castillo that seemed to be headed for the near-top corner.
“At first I didn't see much,” Frei said. “I thought Zach (Scott) did a really good job of (forcing Castillo) out wide — getting him to an angle where it was impossible to shoot. And somehow, Castillo got the shot off from there and somehow squirted it under Zach's leg or something like that.”
Something like that, Scott confirmed.
“It went between my legs,” he said. “And I was watching it go upper corner, and I saw his hand come out of nowhere. He was not only good on that save, but he came out for a ton of crosses (Sunday), and I told him after the game this was by far his best game. It's been kind of a steady progression with him as the year has gone on that he's been better and better and better. You can see that it's building with him, and it gives us defenders that much more confidence knowing that he's going to come up and back us up on anything that gets over our heads.”
Frei played his first five MLS seasons with Toronto FC, which has never qualified for the playoffs. He admitted before the game that he was excited to be doing something in November other than taking his end-of-season physical and making offseason plans.
However, his first playoff game happened to come against the third-highest goal-producing team in MLS, and on a gusty Texas night when the conditions were trying.
“It was a tricky game, to be honest,” Frei said. “The wind and the field were very difficult to play on, to judge balls on the ground and in the air. So, it was a difficult game. I'm happy with the way we fought back. I was able to make a couple of saves and help my teammates out with coming out on some of those crosses.”
The only save Frei didn’t make came on a first-half penalty kick by Michel, which gave Dallas the early lead.
“I was a bit disappointed to give that goal away,” Frei said. “We've been in so many situations like that so many times and no reason to get your head down and start moping. I think we know we have quality on the team and spirit and character to fight back, and that's what we showed (Sunday). The away goal is huge, and the tie, so we're OK with the performance and the result.”
The penalty kick followed a foul in the area by Marco Pappa. However, Pappa came back to assist the tying goal with a free kick headed in by Osvaldo Alonso. That equalizer was especially important because MLS is using road goals as the first tiebreaker this season.
“We still need to win at home,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We definitely don't want to get a 2-2 tie at home. But having an away goal certainly helps. It means they (FC Dallas) know in order for them to come out with anything in Seattle they've got to win the game, and if they're not going to win the game, they've got to get two goals. It puts a little more pressure on them, to a certain extent, but I know we'll play better being at home and playing in front of our crowd is a good thing for us.”